FIND in
<--prev V205 next-->
From: "Robert Borski" 
Subject: (urth) Tracking Song
Date: Wed, 29 May 2002 01:07:20 -0500

Lots and lots of commentary on "Tracking Song" in the early days of the
list, but not much since, so I thought I'd upload my own interpretation.

Is it possible that Gene Wolfe, drawing upon sf's pulpish roots, is
attempting to rewrite an older story still--namely, the wanderings of the
first murderer, Cain?

Cutthroat, of course, is our protagonist's name, his nom de tribu being
conferred upon him by the Wiggikki because he has "a reddish-brown birthmark
on my throat from one side of the hair behind my neck to the other." As for
his real name, Cutthroat claims he doesn't remember it. But notice how
"cutthroat" is also a synonym for "murderer." As for the birthmark, it
likely symbolizes the unspecified mark God places on Cain so that no one
will murder him. This "mark of Cain" aspect is reinforced later when
Longknife tells Cutthroat, "You are under an enchantment. That is good for
you." "Why is that?" Cutthroat asks. Responds Longknife: "No one will kill
you. When an enchanted animal dies, the spell runs up the weapon, seeking a
new home."

Cutthroat is recording the progress of his quest to catch up to the Great
Sleigh. "I want to leave a record of what has happened to me, so that if
someone comes for me, and finds me dead, he will understand. I feel that
someone may, though I do not know why. And I want him to understand." This
person who Cutthroat/Cain senses is looking for him is God, and he knows
why--he's killed Abel--just as he clearly does _not_ want to be understood.
("Am I my brother's keeper?")

Cutthroat also finds that he can speak the language of the animal tribes,
"though badly." This makes sense in the postlapsarian world. In the Garden
the beasts of the wild and the field all spoke a single language
understandable to Adam. A generation later, after the diaspora from Eden,
that same ability by his children has begun to deteriorate.

When Cutthroat encounters the Pamigaka, a hoe is extended to him, an action
Cutthroat believes is "clearly a ritual gesture of some kind." Cutthroat
asks about being allowed to leave in peace, but is then told by Eggseeker,
"I would rather that you teach us your wisdom. Will you teach wisdom?"
Because the name "Cain" means "smith," and considering the extended hoe (an
implement also harkening back to Cain's days as a tiller of the soil), this
appears to be an appeal to be taught metalworking (or perhaps gardening)

Cain is the founder of the first city and his children will also be metal
workers, with direct descendant Tubal-cain being described as "an instructor
of every artificer in brass and iron." This may help explain why Cutthroat
is able to bond with Roller, Dragon, and Bug, and get machines to help him.
(The underground city of metal has apparently been built by Mantru or his
ancestors--Mantru being Cutthroat's symbolic twin.)

At one stage Cim Glowing asks Cutthroat, "Suppose that when we catch up to
the Great Sleigh, they believe you have murdered one of their people?" While
in another passage Cutthroat wonders similarly: "Surely, if a crewmember
were missing by some accident, the fact could not go unnoticed for long. The
Great Sleigh would reverse its course, or a rescue party would be sent back
along the track. As nearly as I could tell, neither of these things have
occurred. It may very well be that I have been exiled for some crime, or
that, as Cim Glowing hinted, I have stolen these clothes and, with them, an
identity to which I am not entitled."

This, I posit, is exactly so: Cutthroat/Cain has murdered "Abel" and has
been exiled as a consequence.

Later, Cutthroat describes his travails in the metal city as "wanderings,"
while Cutthroat's uncertainty about the 8th day is blamed on perpetual dusk.
"There is no day here, and no night," perhaps signifying he has finally (and
punningly) come to the land of Nod. Certainly Nod is being alluded to when
Cutthroat sources his original home, "To the east, from which I came."
(Nod--meaning 'wandering' or 'homeless'--lays "east of Eden.")

Vampires are in at least one tradition (and several role-playing games, I
believe) held to be the descendants of Cain and Lilith. So it makes sense
that Cutthroat encounters him, although they are more likely the offspring
of Mantru-Cain rather than Cutthroat. (Another tradition makes the wicked
angel Samael the father of Cain; perhaps this, along with the horned staff,
reflects Mantru's true paternity.)

Then there's Cutthroat's mysterious association with Ketin. Ketin (or rather
his wife Ketincha) is encountered early, when Cutthroat first finds himself
with the Wiggikki tribe. Describing the giantess, Red Kluy tells Cutthroat,
"She is Ketincha--you saw her. We're lucky her husband wasn't around. You
should see Ketin. They used to have a son, but he's gone away." Later,
Longknife tells him, "You are not a man. Hair grows on your face, and you
must cut it off. I followed you tonight. I think that you are cousin to
Ketin." Cutthroat protests that he has never even seen Ketin, to which
Longknife rejoins, ""You remember nothing--why should you not forget your
cousinship? Like you, he leaps very far, though he is big and you small. I
think that you are cousin to Ketin."

Ketin, I submit, is the symbolic equivalent of Adam--which makes Cutthroat
(or possibly dead brother Abel) the son who's gone away. In less
scientifically-astute times, the bones of dinosaurs were often thought to be
those of our primordial ancestors; Cutthroat, still a young man or perhaps
an adolescent, is smaller than his symbolic father--plus, like Mantru, he's
committed evil deeds and has perhaps therefore shrunk.

The Adam-Ketin link is further strengthened by onomastic evidence. 'Ketin,'
in Kurmanji--a language spoken in the Tigris-Euphrates river valley, the
traditional site of Eden--means "to fall." Furthermore, there is in the name
Kenites--signifying the tribe of metalworkers founded by eponymous Cain--the
nested name Ketin. And just as there are two versions of Cain, there may
(also like the moons) be two versions of Adam--a symbolic one; fallen Ketin,
lost father-guardian of Eden--and the commander of the Great Sleigh. (Ketin
does not recognize Cutthroat when they meet, so their relationship must be
symbolic.) (Note too how Cutthroat has "fallen": not only, as he alleges,
from the Great Sleigh, but metaphorically as the first murderer.)

As for the commander, when Cutthroat finally does reach the Great
Sleigh--literally the technology of heaven if we accept that the space
people are terraforming the world in question to make it more habitable,
perhaps even after a long nuclear winter--the last entry he records has
Cutthroat "regaining" his memory. "I know who you are," he says. "The small
planet is round, and you have come back, and the time for talking into this
black box is over. I am going to talk to you face to face. Who is that tall
man with you? I think he has...wings?"

But far from being an avian symbol of regenerative spring as Joan Gordon
suggests, the winged creature with commander Adam (the "you" being addressed
by Cutthroat) is much more likely a forbidding presence, who will not allow
Cutthroat to reboard.

God, of course, has other plans for Cain.

Robert Borski


<--prev V205 next-->